The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. This is often done to commit fraud, theft or other crimes. It can destroy a person’s credit and ruin their good name. It can also cost a lot of time and money to fix.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:
Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
Pre-texting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
Below are some ways that you can protect your identity:
- Shred all financial documents and personal information before you throw them away.
- Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry it with you and give it out only when absolutely necessary.
- Don’t give out personal information over the phone, by mail or over the Internet.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails. Use firewalls, anti spyware and anti virus software on your computer.
- Don’t use an obvious password like your birth date or phone number.
- Keep your personal information in a secure location in your home, especially if you have other people living with you or working at your home.
- Be aware of when your bills are normally received so you notice if one is not received. Also, if you receive unexpected credit cards or bills, denials of credit for no reason, and calls or letters about purchases you are unaware of, make sure to research and find out why.
- Inspect your credit report regularly.
- Inspect your statements every month for charges you did not make.
- If you suspect identity theft, place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your reports carefully for errors.
- Close accounts that have been tampered with.
- If you find your identity has been stolen, file a police report and report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission by phone at 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).